George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 30 May-5 June 1789

To the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church

[New York, 30 May-5 June 1789]


I receive with great sensibility the testimonial, given by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, of the live and unfeigned pleasure experienced by them on my appointment to the first office in the nation.

Although it will be my endeavor to avoid being elated by the too favorable opinion which your kindness for me may have induced you to express of the importance of my former conduct, and the effect of my future services: yet, conscious of the disinterestedness of my motive it is not necessary for me to conceal the satisfaction I have felt upon finding, that my compliance with the call of my country, and my dependence on the assistance of Heaven to support me in my arduous undertakings, have, so far as I can learn, met the universal approbation of my countrymen.

While I reiterate the possession of my dependence upon Heaven as the source of all public and private blessings; I will observe that the general prevalence of piety, philanthropy, honesty, industry and œconomy seems, in the ordinary course of human affairs are particularly necessary for advancing and confirming the happiness of our country. While all men within our territories are protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of their consciences; it is rationally to be expected from them in return, that they will be emulous of evincing the sincerity of their profession by the innocence of their lives, and the beneficence of their actions: For no man, who is profligate in his morals, or a bad member of the civil community, can possibly be a true Christian, or a credit to his own religious society.

I desire you to accept my acknowledgements for your laudable endeavors to render men sober, honest, and good Citizens, and the obedient subjects of a lawful government; as well as for your prayers to Almighty God for his blessing on our common country and the humble instrument, which he has been pleased to make use of in the administration of it’s government.

G. Washington


The general assembly of the Presbyterian church met in Philadelphia during the last week in May, with John Rodgers (1727–1811), pastor of the Presbyterian church in New York City, as moderator. On 30 May Rodgers wrote GW that he was enclosing a “Copy of an address from the Genl Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, their highest Ecclesiastical Judicatory, in this united States, at their late Meeting in Philadelphia—with a Request to know when They may have the honor of presenting it.

“I beg Leave to add that three of the Gentn of the Committee appointed for this Purpose, live in the Country—but if notified by Monday’s Post may attend by Thursday or Friday of the next Week, if either of those Days will be convenient—or Such other as You shall please to fix on, the Week following.” The docket on that letter reads in part "answerd—May 30th—address to be recd on the 5th of June (DLC:GW). The committee, consisting of Rodgers, the Rev. Alexander MacWhorter, the Rev. Mr. Roe, John Bayard, and John Broome, presented the address to GW on the indicated date (New-York Journal, and Weekly Register, 4 and 11 June 1789). The address, dated 26 May and signed by Rodgers as moderator, reads in part: “The general assembly of the Presbyterian church in the United States of America embrace the earliest opportunity in their power, to testify the lively and unfeigned pleasure which they with the rest of their fellow citizens feel on your appointment to the first office in the nation.

“We adore Almighty GOD the Author of every perfect gift who hath endued you with such a rare and happy assemblage of Talents as hath rendered you equally necessary to your country in war and in peace. Your military atchievements ensured safety and glory to America, in the late arduous conflict for freedom, while your disinterested conduct, and uniformly just discernment of the public Interest, gained you the entire confidence of the People and in the present interesting period of public affairs, the influence of your personal character moderates the divisions of political parties, and promises a permanent establishment of the civil Government.

“From a retirement more glorious to you than thrones and sceptres, you have been called to your present elevated station by the voice of a great and free people, and with an unanimity of suffrage that has few if any examples in history—A Man more ambitious of fame, or less devoted to his country, would have refused an office in which his honors could not be augmented, and where they might possibly be subject to a reverse.

“We are happy that God hath inclined your heart to give yourself once more to the Public. and we derive a favorable presage of the event from the zeal of all classes of the people, and their confidence in your virtues; as well as from the knowledge and dignity with which the federal councils are filled: But we derive a presage even more flattering from the piety of your character. Public virtue is the most certain mean of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue. We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief Magistrate, a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the christian religion, who has commenced his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of Piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the Gospel of Christ, and on the most public and solemn occasions devoutly acknowledges the government of divine Providence.

“The examples of distinguished Characters will ever possess a powerful and extensive influence on the public mind, and when we see in such a conspicuous station the amiable example of piety to God, of benevolence to men, and of a pure and virtuous patriotism, we naturally hope that it will diffuse its influence, and that eventually the most happy consequences will result from it” (DLC:GW).

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